Monday, 10 February 2020

The American Malaise: Reflecting on Whether U.S. Politics is "Beyond Repair"

Tattered Glory” by Helena Martin

A recent BBC News article asked the quite pertinent question of whether U.S. politics is “beyond repair”. The points that the writer Nick Bryant makes regarding political “hyperpartisanship”, what he terms “the degradation of debate” and the corruption of both major political parties on the electoral front are quite valid, but fail to get to the heart of the matter. This is because it does not address deeper issues that link America’s social, political and economic malaise to the need for profound reform of America’s rigged economic system, its flawed electoral laws and its prevailing foreign policy.

America’s Economic System

The United States is a heavily indebted country. As of February 2020, the debt of the federal government stands at just over $23 trillion. It is a state of affairs which is often discussed at great length and one in which the country’s politicians and economists direct a great deal of blame at specific targets. Yet, no American politician of prominence ever addresses the role of usury at the heart of an economic system which is geared towards the facilitation of enduring and frequently unpayable debt.

Under a capitalist system, which some have termed state-sponsored usury; an unremarked but ever present conflict persists between labour and usury. And while usury is persistently triumphant, the inescapable truth is that labour is the only source of value. America needs to reject usury as the basis of money supply.

Unfortunately, there are few eminent intellectuals who are calling for such a profound change, which would logically begin with the abolition of the Federal Reserve System. The Federal Reserve was created in 1913 to take away control of the supply of money from America’s elected officials and privatise the supply of money and credit. As a result, it functions to serve the interests of the monied classes and not the public interest.

And while its heads are appointed by Washington, the oligarchs of Wall Street possess an effective power of veto. While its official aims are to promote “price stability” and “full employment”, a closer analysis of its modus operandi and its record in these areas reveals that attaining these objectives always involves subordinating the wider public interest to the interests of the financiers. Indeed, Alan Greenspan, the one-time head of the Federal Reserve, once stated that he believed full employment to be incompatible with the ideal of price stability. The body was responsible for using American taxpayer’s money to fund a bailout of ‘too-big-to-fail’ financial organisations, many of who operated in a criminally negligent manner while many Americans had to endure the humiliation of property foreclosures, denuded pensions and unemployment. In the final analysis, it exists to promote the interests of the minuscule creditor class at the expense of the majority debtor class.

In his book Killing the Host, Michael Hudson, a distinguished professor of economics, argued the case for re-regulating the whole of the financial system. This would require a revolutionary tax policy geared towards preventing the financial sector from extracting economic surplus and capitalizing on debt obligations paying interest to that sector.

The ending of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union is often hailed as the historical triumph of laissez faire economics. Yet, contentious debate about the merits of the Austrian School of Economics in relation to the Keynesian School, or of capitalist versus socialist models ignore the crucial issue of usury which saddles most of the population with debt.

Those in America who argue for neo-liberalism also ignore the fact that it has created as many ills in society as its proponents claim socialism creates. Only a small fraction of the society thrive in a system that is rigged in favour of oligarchs and corporations who often pay a lower tax rate than the average working man. It creates the conditions through which the parasitical and exploitative role of hedge-fund speculators can thrive. The neo-liberal ideology also creates the sort of casino banking culture that brought the United States to the brink of economic collapse in the late 2000s, as well as the sort of vulture capitalism which wrecks small American communities, the island of Puerto Rico and nation states such as Argentina and the Congo.

America’s Electoral Funding Laws

The development of the laws governing the funding of America’s elections, beginning with the 1976 case of Buckley versus Valeo culminated in the Citizens United versus Federal Electoral Commission case of 2010 has effectively given unrestricted power to the oligarchs who control America’s political class.

The decision in Buckley involved striking down certain provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act (1974), which removed limits to the amount of money which could be spent on campaigns, although limits remained in regard to the contributions of individuals. The Citizens United case went further. In overturning sections of the Campaign Reform Act (2002), it removed limits to expenditures made by non-profit and for-profit corporations. And in 2014, McCutcheon versus Federal Election Commission added to this by removing the biennial aggregate limit on individual contributions to national party and federal candidate committees.

Former President Jimmy Carter once bluntly stated what the implications are:

It violates the essence of what made America a great nation in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or being elected president. And the same thing applies to governors, and U.S. Senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a subversion of our political system as a major pay-off to major contributors, who want and expect, and sometimes get, favours for themselves after the election is over. … At the present time the incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody that is already in Congress has a great deal more to sell.

The law ensures that both Democratic and Republican parties are under the thrall of the rich and super-powerful lobbies such as the military industry, the Israel lobby and Wall Street interests. It also means that little or no scrutiny is directed, for instance, at the activities of sponsors such as Paul Singer, the second largest donor to the Republican Party in 2016 who funded a super-PAC that supports Republican senators.

It has also had implications in regard to the calibrating of the foreign policy of the United States. For instance, the financial contribution made to the election campaign of Donald Trump by the billionaire and self-avowed ‘Israel-Firster’ Sheldon Adelson, was explicitly related to changes in foreign policy. Adelson demanded that Trump recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He also expected Trump to renege on the nuclear agreement painstakingly reached between Iran and other nations. All of this has only succeeded in dangerously ratcheting up tensions in the Middle East.

For some, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is controlled by a triumvirate of oligarchs: Sheldon Adelson, Bernard Marcus and Paul Singer; a cynical but understandable analysis of the situation.

American Foreign Policy

Few among the American populace appear to be aware of the fundamentally unchanging nature of U.S. foreign policy. American militarism expressed through a perpetual interventionist policy of regime change has added considerably to its national debt and undermined its moral authority among the global community of nations. While regime change policies have a basis in the application of ‘American Exceptionalism’, as well as the influence of the neoconservative ideology, the unbending trajectory of foreign policy owes a great deal to the machinations of a hidden government of the sort expounded by the 19th century English constitutionalist Walter Bagehot.

While the term ‘Deep State’ has entered the lexicon of everyday language, it is rarely clearly defined and specifically linked to the conduct of America’s foreign policy, which Professor Michael J. Glennon of Tufts University posits has a great deal to do with an unaccountable entity that wields a great deal of power in the governance of a nation.

Glennon's argument is that what he terms the ‘Trumanite’ institutions composed of ex-military and security officials run national security policies at the expense of the ‘Madisonian’ institutions; that is, the separated organs of state which function to constitutionally check the power of each other and who are accountable to the electorate.

This assessment partly explains why no politician of note has ever addressed retired U.S. General Wesley Clark’s assertion that American foreign policy was “hijacked” by “some hard-nosed people” in the wake of the terror attacks of September 11th 2001. They have failed to address the war agenda revealed in numerous position papers published by neoconservative think tanks in the 1990s and 2000s which called for the destruction of a number of states perceived as being opposed to the interests of the United States. Uncoincidentally, most were enemies of the State of Israel.

While visiting the Pentagon during the period following the September 11 attacks, Clark was shown a plan of action which proposed the destruction of seven countries over a five-year period, starting with Iraq and ending with Iran. What is remarkable about Clark’s revelation is that all the countries on that list have been targeted since that time by a series of overt and covert military actions carried out by different administrations. Glennon’s allusion to the ascendancy of Trumanite institutions goes some way in explaining the unchanging national security policy of the administrations led by George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

The result of the implementation of the agenda has been an enduring engagement in Afghanistan, invaded in 2001 under the guise of a police action, but which has turned out to be America’s longest war; the respective destructive wars against Arab secular governments of Iraq, Libya and Syria, as well as the imposition of sanctions and persistent threats of war made against Iran.

The other salient expression of the new militarism developed in the aftermath of the ending of the Cold War is the designation of Russia as an enemy state. Here, the twin doctrines expressed respectively by Paul Wolfowitz and Zbigniew Brzeziński, have been crucial. The Wolfowitz Doctrine sought to formalise American hegemony by sanctioning the overthrow of governments resistant to the dictates of American interests and accepting such course of actions even when riding roughshod over multilateral agreements. The Brzeziński Doctrine incorporated a resolve to militarily intimidate and ideally balkanise Russia for it to be used as a source of the energy needs of the West. Both doctrines endorsed the view that in the light of dissolution of the Soviet Union, no power should be allowed to rise and challenge American supremacy over the globe.

This led to the expansion of NATO in contravention of an agreement reached between the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union that a condition for the reunification of Germany would be that NATO should not expand one inch eastwards. It has also resulted in the unilateral abrogation by the United States of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in July 2002 by George W. Bush and Donald Trump’s renunciation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in August 2019.

A concomitant to this prevailing policy has been the orchestrated demonisation of Vladimir Putin -once compared to Adolf Hitler by Hillary Clinton- whose foreign policy decisions in relation to military engagements in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria have all been reactive to U.S. foreign policy objectives of destabilisation.

The United States, which has not won a war since World War II, constantly risks igniting a Third World War by these actions, which are stimulated by the Military Industry which thrives on the existence of conflicts. It bullies smaller nations through the threat of or imposition of sanctions and hypocritically, it has fought a succession of proxy wars through Islamist fanatics professing the ideology of the group which it holds responsible for instigating the 9/11 attacks.

Conclusion

Few Americans appear to be cognisant of the relative powerlessness of the office of the presidency. It is occupied by a person who may espouse and administer policies which appeal to their ‘Liberal’ or ‘Conservative’ constituents in the typically fractious discourse that permeates America’s ‘Culture Wars’, but who cannot address the fundamental issues affecting America’s decline.

Unless these issues relating to usurious economics, the control of politicians by oligarchs and the pernicious rationales governing foreign policy begin to be seriously addressed by America’s political and intellectual classes, the malaise, characterised by unending wars, extraordinary sovereign debt and increasing social polarisation, looks certain to bring about the collapse of the American Republic.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2020).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Miles, "The Prince of Darkness"

The ‘Prince of Darkness’ standing in the shadows. Miles captured at the Salle Pleyel Concert Hall, 8th Arrondissement, Paris on Monday, November 3rd 1969.

Just as Louis Armstrong was known as ‘Satchmo’ and John Gillespie was ‘Dizzy’, ‘Prince of Darkness’ was the acknowledged nickname of Miles Davis (1926-1990).

How did Miles come to be known as such?

It came from his penchant for wearing dark suits; the sombre, at times surly ambiance on stage which occasionally involved Miles playing with his back to concert audiences, as well as that dark, raspy style of speaking that became his trademark.

The Wayne Shorter-composed “Prince of Darkness” in the Miles Davis Quintet’s 1967 album Sorcerer alludes to it. Miles was a complex man who had a mean-hearted side, and yes, he was a genius and innovator who in his inimitable words changed jazz “five or six times”.

Few to none would argue with argue with him over that claim.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2020)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.


Thursday, 30 January 2020

"This is a British Embassy and it will be defended as such": The Death of Francis Cromie

Francis Cromie (played by Barry Stokes) opens fire on Bolshevik gunmen invading the British Embassy in Petrograd, Russia in a fictionalised scene from the episode “End Game” in the TV series Reilly: Ace of Spies (1983)

Francis Cromie (1882-1918), a Royal Navy officer, who Winston Churchill once referred to as “a man of great abilities” is today a largely forgotten figure.

Although his death made news headlines across the world, his extraordinary life has only had a minuscule of exposure to a wide audience; the most significant been through a fictionalised depiction in the 1983 British television drama series, Reilly: Ace of Spies. Cromie, who attained the rank of Acting Captain, was portrayed as a commander.

Cromie died in a hail of bullets on Saturday, August 31st 1918 during an invasion of the British Embassy in Petrograd by Bolshevik forces angered by British efforts aimed at overthrowing the government established by Vladimir Lenin. It was the day after Lenin had been shot and seriously injured by Fanny Kaplan in an assassination attempt as he was entering his car after giving a speech at the Hammer and Sickle, a Michelson arms factory in south Moscow. And British troops were at the time fighting on Russian soil as part of an expeditionary force which, while ostensibly to promote British interests in securing the use of Russian ports for the supply of munitions to Czech forces to enable the re-opening of the war effort on the Eastern Front, was interpreted as a hostile intervention in the Russian Civil War.

Cromie had become involved in the intrigues of two men who aimed to extinguish Bolshevik power: Robert Bruce Lockhart, a British Foreign Office diplomat ad Sidney Reilly, the legendary “Ace of Spies”, who was working for MI 1(c), the precursor of MI6.

His portrayal in the aforementioned series as an officer who is vain, punctilious and stubbornly dedicated to duty veers into the cartoonish, but, perhaps, contains elements of truth. His dedication to duty as a Midshipman fighting during the Boxer Rebellion earned him a mention in dispatches and as a pioneer submariner won him the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). He was also decorated by Tsar Nicholas II. And while the hair-combing fop of Reilly who stands alone on top of a grand staircase with two guns in hand as he is gunned down by Cheka agents is decidedly over the top, the did oppose the intrusion and, according to the British Foreign Office, Cromie killed three of the intruders before succumbing to overwhelming firepower.

There was much more to the man than a fleeting appearance in the series could portray. He was a skilled negotiator who earned the respect of friend and foe alike. The Boston Globe edition of Friday, September 6th 1918 reported that “during the Russian revolution, he handled the situation with the greatest tact and earned the respect of the Extremists for his fair dealing.” Nicknamed the “Blue Pimpernel” for his actions in saving many lives during the revolution, Cromie’s funeral cortege prompted a spontaneous formation and salute from the ranks of the new Soviet Navy as it made its way along the banks of the River Neva.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2020)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Bruno Catalano's "Les Voyageurs"


Bruno Catalano’s “Les Voyageurs” on display at the front of Bel Air Fine Art Gallery at Rue de la Corraterie 7, 1204 Geneve, Switzerland. (PHOTO: Adeyinka Makinde, December 2019).

© Adeyinka Makinde (2020).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Future Ghanaian Military Heads of State Akwasi Afrifa and Kwasi Akuffo Captured in 1950s Sandhurst Photograph

Akwasi Afrifa (back row first from left) and Kwasi Akuffo (Back row second from left) as cadets of Normandy Company at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

Photograph of Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa (1936-1979) and Frederick William Kwasi Akuffo (1937-1979) as young cadets of Normandy Company at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, England in 1958. They graduated in December 1959 and were commissioned into the Ghanaian Army as Second Leiutenants in January 1960.

Both men would later become military Heads of State of Ghana; Afrifa in 1969, and Akuffo in 1978. Both would also be among the senior military officers executed by firing squad on June 26th 1979 after an uprising by junior members of the Ghana armed forces.

Note:

Yakubu Gowon, the Nigerian military Head of State between 1966 and 1975, a Sandhurst graduate also belonged to Normandy Company. Gowon and Afrifa hosted each other during state visits in July and August of 1969.

Source of photograph: ‘Losing an Empire and Winning Friends’: Sandhurst and British Decolonization, Chapter 6 of The British End of the British Empire (pp.234-285), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2020).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Bashorun Gaha - Revising the Legacy of the "Tyranical" Prime Minister of the Oyo Empire


If "Nollywood" makes engaging and intelligent films with attention to historical accuracy and high production values, I can't think of a better epic than one involving this longstanding and notorious 18th century Prime Minster of the Oyo Empire, Bashorun Gaha (or Gaa).

His story is replete with so many components: the competition for power and influence, murder and empire building. Among the chroniclers of Yoruba history, his name is synonymous with authoritarian rule and cruelty.

He held his position (Bashorun) during the tenure of four Ala'afins (kings) of Oyo, bearing responsibility for the deaths of three of them, until Ala'afin Abiodun outmanouevred him.

Gaha was burned to death because it was felt that this would prevent his spirit from being resurrected.

The Reverend Samuel Johnson gives a good account of his reign in his landmark book "The History of the Yorubas" which was first published in 1921.

Johnson's tome presents Gaha in all his infamy. But even this orthodox assessment of a man consumed by personal ambition and a wielder of arbitrary power gives an alternate view; namely that Gaha rose to power as a man of the people and not solely by the permission of the aristocracy. The people had begun to tire of the tyranny of previous Ala'afins:

As Johnson put it in in Chapter V, Page 178:

"Gaha had great influence with the people and a great many followers who considered themselves safe under his protection from the dread in which they stood of kings because of their cruel and despotic rule."

So while it may be overly presumptious to consider him to have been at the helm of an attempted political reformation based on republican sentiment, it may simply be a case of Gaha's legacy being fashioned by the aristocratic establishment which having overcome him, "wrote", or more accurately, saw fit to pass down their biased version of history. in other words, they were no better than Gaha but as victors in a power struggle, had the power to write down their version of history.

As Johnson put it:

"Gaha the Basorun had by this time attained to great power and influence. He made himself the King maker and King destroyer. He did not aspire to the throne, for that was impossible of attainment, but he demanded the homage of all the Kings he raised to the throne."

Bashorun Gaha continues polarises opinion to this day and will do so perhaps until the end of history.

The image is an artist's impression.

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© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England. He has a keen interest in history.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

The Beauty of Lake Geneva

View of Lake Geneva from Barton Park. (PHOTO: Adeyinka Makinde, December 2019)

The Beauty of Lake Geneva captured by my camera and the words of Keats.

“I should like the window to open onto the Lake of Geneva, and there I’d sit and read all day like the picture of somebody reading.”

- John Keats (1795-1821), English Romantic lyric poet, referring to Geneva in a letter, 1819.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.